Dear Tom (if I may?),
It’s the end of a long and tiring week and I’m trying to keep focused on this task that I set before myself: to write regularly to my congressional representative. It seemed like such a good idea and I was full of energy and enthusiasm last week. Now I’m sitting with a blank screen in front of me and I’m not sure what to say.
It does seem like my friends are more politically engaged than ever. I received numerous pleas over social media this week to call your office and express my dismay over the appointment of Stephen K. Bannon as chief strategist for the White House. I didn’t make that call but I thought about it. Would it make a difference? Would pressure from constituents to a member of congress make a president-elect change his mind about a key leadership role? I felt the way that I think a lot of people do in America today—uninformed. I don’t actually know very much about Stephen K. Bannon. If I’m going to be completely honest with you, his name hadn’t even registered with me until this week. And I’d have to trust the instincts of a lot of hurt and angry people who are telling me that this is a huge problem. On the whole, I do trust those people. But I wanted to know enough about this myself before making the call. And I didn’t take the time to thoroughly research who he is and why his qualifications or his beliefs would make him unfit for the job.
The one story this week that I did follow more closely was the one about the small city in our district that made national news after the election. I’m sure you heard that someone in Wellsville (down at the southern end of my county) spray-painted a swastika on a Little League dugout, accompanied by the slogan, “Make America White Again.” The image of this sign and slogan was widely distributed, reinforcing the storyline that Donald Trump’s election had emboldened people who hate people with brown skin. There is truth to that story. Someone full of hate chose the post-election period as a time to paint that message. But there is another story too. After the dugout was quickly repainted, the people of Wellsville and the surrounding area showed that many more people were appalled by that symbol and slogan. On Thursday, a group of people, some of them close friends of mine, showed up for a candlelight vigil, testifying to their commitment to kindness—the virtue I witness daily in my neighbors and friends. I wish I could have been there.
So my take-away this week is that political engagement is hard. It’s hard to make phone calls and to show up to vigils. It’s hard to keep up enough on all the information that’s swirling around to be able to act in thoughtful and informed ways.
I’m counting on you, Tom. We’ve elected you to work full-time on this. I can put in my two cents, but you’re the one who gets to work on legislation and has some access to people in power. Are you troubled by the appointment of Stephen K. Bannon as chief strategist? If you are, perhaps you’ve talked to your Republican or Democrat colleagues about naming your concerns to the president-elect. Have you considered making a statement about what happened in Wellsville? Maybe you should go over there and have a picture of yourself taken with this sign:
Thanksgiving week is coming up and I get to take a few days off from work. But my in-laws are also showing up, so I need to clean the bathrooms and sweep the kitchen floor. A neighbor from two doors down is coming for dinner on Thursday and, after the big feast, we’ll all walk over to another neighbor’s house for pie. What are your Thanksgiving plans?
Talk to you again soon,